Did you know that every single US state has experienced a tornado? It may not be a top concern depending on which state you live in. However, if you live in “tornado alley” you probably experience quite a few of these each year. Tornado alley contains South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and eastern Colorado.
Although there are no clearly defined boundaries for Tornado Alley there are usually more of these weather patterns that occur. More tornadoes occur in these specific regions for several reasons. First, it is a large plot of mostly flat land. Secondly, there are clashing air currents. Warm air comes in from the Gulf and cold air comes in from the Rocky Mountains. When these two atmospheric currents combine it can cause storms.
Although it is not impossible for tornadoes to touch down in a city it is pretty unlikely. Tornadoes need three things to occur. First and foremost it need vertical air movement. This typically comes from the thunderstorm. Secondly it needs a wide variety of wind speed and wind direction within that storm. The third, and final, thing a tornado needs is plenty of space to develop and rotate. This is why the flat land in the middle of the country is the ideal place for tornadoes to occur.
What is a Tornado?
If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz then you know what a tornado it. A tornado is a funnel of swirling wind and air that can be extremely dangerous, destructive, and even deadly.
Tornadoes are responsible for approximately 80 deaths and over 1,500 injuries each year. Wind speeds during a tornado can be as high as 300 miles per hour. Tornadoes are also known to cover a large area at a time. Sometimes they can even spread for over a mile.
In addition to being destructive tornadoes can also be unpredictable. They can start quickly and end even quicker. Some are visible while some hide behind clouds and precipitation. They can be tricky because there is commonly the “calm before the storm.” This is when the wind seems to die down right before a tornado hits. It is not uncommon to see clear sunny skies behind a tornado.
Most tornadoes come from supercells. A supercell is a particularly strong thunderstorm that has wind already rotating. If there were 1,000 thunderstorms in a year it is estimated that 1 of those would turn into a supercell storm. Out of these supercells it is estimated that one in five will turn into a tornado. You might be thinking that they are a pretty rare occurrence. With these numbers it may seem like that. In Texas alone there are about 120 tornadoes a year. In The United States as a whole we see approximately 1,000 each year.
Even though tornadoes are known to be incredibly dangerous and destructive there are some tips for helping stay calm and survive during one of these natural disasters.
Watch Vs. Warning
First and foremost it is important to know the difference between a tornado warning and tornado watch. You may be part of a cellular alert system. Many cell phone applications have the feature to send out emergency alerts to your phone. It’s important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. Each of these has different requirements on your part.
If you are told there is a tornado watch then this means that weather conditions favor a tornado. Essentially it is saying that a tornado could occur due to the current weather conditions. If there is a watch issued you do not need to take any immediate action. Keep an eye on the weather and a TV or phone nearby so you can stay informed it the watch turns to a warning. A watch typically covers a large area. It can span several counties. If a tornado watch is issued it is probably a good idea to review any emergency plans with your family in case it does turn to a tornado warning. If needed, you can figure out your safe space in the home if you have not already done so.
On a much more serious note, if a tornado warning is issued then this means that a tornado has either been sighted or has been detected in your area. If a warning is issued you need to take immediate action.
You’ve Been Warned … Now What?
You’ve just gotten a tornado warning and you know you need to act fast. Here’s what you should do: First you will want to get in to your safe space. You should go to the lowest level of the home. You will also need to be on the innermost wall and away from and windows or doors. Be sure to figure out this designated spot in your home ahead of time. You won’t want to be scrambling and trying to decide where to go once a warning is issued. Plan ahead and have a spot already picked out. It is often in a basement (if you have one) or in a bathroom.
This is not the time to be outdoors. Secure yourself, your family members, and any pets. If you are retreating to a tornado safe location you should be sure to bring a phone, radio, or TV set so you can stay up to date with the weather. You will need to know when it is safe to come out.
If you do happen to be outdoors and are unable to get to a secure location you should find a ditch or field and lay down as flat as you can. Try to stay away from any debris that might fly around and injure you. You should not stay in your vehicle if you find yourself in one during a tornado. Cars can be lifted up by the winds and flung around. Instead, exit the vehicle and find a safe space outdoors away from the car.
Preparing for a Tornado
As previously stated you shouldn’t wait until a tornado warning to start thinking about your options. It’s important to plan ahead and have an emergency plan in cause of a tornado warning. First, you should figure out how at risk you are for a tornado. Do you live in the Midwest? Do you live in the middle of a city? Your urgency for devising a plan may depend on these factors.
You should also know the basics of predicting a tornado. What should you be looking for? People often report seeing a pale green sky before a tornado occurs. You can also watch for dark funneling clouds, an approaching debris cloud, and the noise of a deep rumble similar to a freight train.
You may want to have a few items in your designated secure location that can help in the event of a tornado. You’ll never know how long you may be sheltering. In the event that you are in the basement, or a bathroom for several hours you may want to have some bottles of water, some snacks (such as granola bars or dry cereal), and you’ll definitely want a form of communication. Try to bring your phone with you if it’s safe to do so.If not, keep a radio nearby so you can stay informed with what is going on. You will not want to go outside or look through a window during this time. Wait until the warning has been lifted.
No matter where you live you should consider having a tornado plan in place. Share this information with family members, or whoever lives in the home with you. You will also need to decide where your safe space is. Every single state in the US is susceptible to tornadoes so don’t wait until it’s too late.